EL PASO — President Joe Biden arrives Sunday afternoon in this city on the Texas-Mexico border, a region rocked by a massive influx of migrants and the epicenter of debate over Section 42, a public health rule allowing border agents to rapidly expel millions of migrants.
Biden’s border visit has coincided with criticism from various quarters of the immigration debate, including GOP leaders who criticize him for what they call “open borders” policies and from immigrant advocates who denounced the new border enforcement measures announced last year. week.
Known as the “Ellis Island of the Southwest,” El Paso is a Democratic-dominated city that would have welcomed the president with open arms at any other time. But today, Biden is expected to be met with a dose of skepticism and mixed feelings.
“I’m not going to be nice, but I won’t be rude either,” El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said in an interview Sunday. I’m going to tell him that the trip is overdue. But I don’t like the fact that it’s a pit stop. I mean, “You’re not going to spend a whole day at the epicenter of a humanitarian crisis, are you?”
The focus of law enforcement
The story of downtrodden people crossing the US in search of great opportunities resonates every day, said Samaniego, who will be one of the local leaders who will accompany Biden on his three-hour visit to the border for the first time since he became president in 2020. . .
Samaniego said he also didn’t like that “Biden’s entire focus is on law enforcement, expedited removal and humanitarian parole for some. We are moving away from our own history as a nation of immigrants.”
“I mean why so many [people] intersection? They cross the border because they are desperate, which is not unlike so many Mexicans across generations and so many Irish at the turn of the century,” he said, alluding to Biden’s ancestral roots in Ireland.
On Sunday, Biden will be joined by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas; Representatives Veronica Escobar, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez, all Democrats; and El Paso Mayor Oscar Lizer and Samaniego, among other community and business leaders, according to a White House spokesman.
Migration and fentanyl
Biden is expected to visit the US Port of Entry Bridge along with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, members of Congress, local officials and law enforcement.
He will meet with border officials to discuss migration, as well as the rise in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which are driving the US overdose skyrocketing.
Biden will visit the El Paso County Migrant Services Center and meet with non-profit and religious groups that support migrants coming to the US. It’s unclear if Biden will talk to any migrants.
The president will also hear from local business leaders about the critical economic impact of immigrants in the region to address labor shortages, a White House spokesman said.
“The president is very keen to see firsthand what the security situation looks like at the border,” said John Kirby, White House national security spokesman. “That’s what he wanted to see for himself.”
“Rearrangement of chairs on the terrace”
But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laughed at Biden’s outreach. “All he’s going to do there is rearrange chairs on the deck of the Titanic. He is not going to push for any solution that will make the border safer and more secure and stop illegal immigration,” he told Fox News.
Biden’s border security statement and visit to the border are partly intended to quell the political noise and soften the fallout from the upcoming immigration investigations promised by Republicans in the House of Representatives. But any long-term solution will require the action of a sharply divided Congress, where in recent years numerous attempts to bring about sweeping change have failed.
Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas offered little praise for Biden’s decision to visit the border, and even that was evident in the current political climate.
“He should take the time to learn from some of the experts I rely on the most, including local officials and law enforcement, landowners, non-profit organizations, US Customs and Border Protection officers and agents, and people who make their living. in border communities at the forefront of his crisis,” Kornin said.
From El Paso, Biden will continue south to Mexico City, where he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada will gather on Monday and Tuesday for a North American leaders’ summit. Immigration is on the agenda.
The challenge facing the US on its southern border “is not unique to the United States. It takes over the hemisphere. And a regional problem requires a regional solution,” Mallorcas said on ABC’s This Week before joining Biden on the trip.
The number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border has skyrocketed in Biden’s first two years in office. During the year ending September 30, there were over 2.38 million stops, the first time the number had exceeded 2 million. The administration has struggled to close the crossings, unwilling to take harsh measures that would resemble those of the administration of President Donald J. Trump.
The policy change, announced last week, is Biden’s biggest move to curb illegal border crossings and will deter tens of thousands of migrants arriving at the border. At the same time, 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will be able to legally come to the US if they travel by plane, get a sponsor and pass background checks.
The US will also turn away migrants who do not first seek asylum in the country through which they traveled en route to the US.
“Poisonous anti-immigrant policy”
The latest steps come as immigrant rights advocates call for a return to the border asylum process under U.S. and international law for those facing certain types of persecution.
Biden acknowledged that “seeking asylum is a legal right and spoke sympathetically of people fleeing persecution,” Jonathan Blazer, ACLU director of border strategies, said last week. “But the plan he announced further ties his administration to Trump-era venomous anti-immigrant policies instead of restoring fair access to asylum protection.”
Blazer added: “Let’s be clear: nothing requires the administration to extend Section 42 while it claims to be preparing to end it. There is simply no reason why the benefits of the new parole program for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians should be due to an increase in dangerous deportations.”
Section 42 allowed U.S. border agents to deport migrants more than 2 million times, preventing them from applying for asylum on the grounds that it was done to be safe from the pandemic. The repeal of Section 42 is under litigation in the US Supreme Court.
David Stout, El Paso County Commissioner and chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, said he was concerned about a video circulating online of Border Patrol agents taking into custody migrants sleeping on the streets near a bus station and Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Another video, filmed near a homeless shelter, shows a border guard agent trying to apprehend a suspected migrant. In the video, the agent pushes the migrant near the building, then grabs the migrant and throws him to the ground.
“This is a very unnerving, terrible video,” Stout said, calling on the Biden administration to investigate the incident. “These are people, real people, and they are on our streets. We should never lose our compassion or simply sweep them under the rug.”
In response, a CBP spokesperson said, “While we do not have all the details of what happened during this incident at this time, CBP takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and thoroughly investigates and holds employees accountable if policies are violated. The Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the incident.”
In all of Biden’s international travel in his 50 years of public service, he hasn’t spent much time on the US-Mexico border.
The only visit the White House could point to was Biden’s drive to the border during his 2008 presidential campaign. was not the center of crossroads, as it is now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.